Condoms not the answer
Children need more than condoms to protect themselves from having unwanted and unplanned pregnancies and preventing HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted infections.
I fully support the idea that our children should be supported and provided with the requisite information and commodities to safeguard and protect their health. This, of course, includes ensuring those students who for whatever reason are sexually active and do not wish to or cannot abstain, and those who are unable to delay sexual debut are provided with condoms and other contraceptives.
Here is why I say the provision of condoms isn't the answer. Generally, condom use is increasing but it is not being used consistently for a number of reasons. Condoms have actually become more normative. More persons are walking with a condom and have at their homes. Note, this doesn't mean condoms and other contraceptives aren't as desperately needed as is willingness and professionalism on the part of our educators where teaching comprehensive sex education is concerned. School-aged youth still have lots of challenge accessing condoms. Notwithstanding, it is not the only thing we should be worried about and pushing for.
The last Knowledge Attitudes Behaviour and Practices Study, conducted by Hope Enterprises in 2012, revealed quite a bit of worrying things that ought to be used to guide how we work with our students. Here are some of our key findings:
1. A total of 177,859 or 52.4 per cent of young people 15-24 years are engaged in multiple sex partnerships - an increase from the last KAPB study.
2. Risk perceptions are particularly low among the general population. Sixty per cent of persons who either never or infrequently protect themselves perceive little or no chance of HIV infection.
3. In the last 12 months at the time of the survey, 5.31 is the mean number of partners persons have had. This means that there were 944,430 sexual contacts.
4. Nearly half or 42 per cent of young people do not use or only use condoms sometimes. This resulted in 396,660 potential cases of HIV transmission.
5. Transactional sex was reported by 43 per cent of persons 15-24 years - an increase from 39 per cent in previous study in 2008. This compares to 36 per cent among the adult population.
6. Thirty-nine point two per cent (39.2% )of sexually active persons reported casual partners in the last 12 months, but for young people this is over 50 per cent - 52.6 per cent to be exact. Only 42.1 per cent of people in casual sexual relationships use a condom every time they have sex.
7. Endorsement of correct preventive practices is declining among our young people. To be clear, correct preventive practices measure the proportion of the population able to endorse correct HIV/AIDS preventive practices. This means that young people 15-24 years old must endorse three preventive practices: condom use always, one faithful partner, and abstinence. In 2004, 75.2 per cent of males endorsed these correct preventive practices but by 2012 this declined to 56 per cent. For young girls, this moved from 74.3 per cent in 2004 to 55.3 per cent in 2012. Only 81 per cent of females believe a condom should be used every time and only 73 per cent of young males believe in having one faithful (uninfected) partner.
8. Six in 10 Jamaicans endorse the myth that withdrawal before ejaculation can prevent HIV transmission. Frighteningly, this has increased among young people from 15.1 per cent in 2008 to 57.2 per cent in 2012.
9. The main reason for non-use of condom is because people feel 'safe' with their sexual partner. Nearly half of the respondents - 47 per cent - report that they love or trust their partner so they do not use a condom.
Comprehensive Sex Education
We desperately need to provide our young people with the information and commodities they need to protect themselves. Comprehensive sex education is critical as we move forward. We need to mandate that teachers and guidance counsellors implement the Health and Family Life Curriculum in totality. We can no longer accept their excuses about their faith and morals.
Our resistance will affect thousands of children and their families, as well as the entire society and economy if we fail to support our young people 'with proven, cost-effective solutions' which help to prevent unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection. This is, of course, efficacious for, as the ICPD task force argues, 'poverty eradication, social, economic and sustainable development, and for equality and equity'.